A Quiet Inspiration

In the spring of 1962, I was 15. My mother, my younger sister, my sister’s friend, Wendy, and I were traveling on a Greyhound bus from New York to Florida.

In Baltimore, I saw the first signs of segregation: separate bathrooms and water fountains. I had never been to the South before and my mother explained this to me.

In North Carolina, the bus stopped on the road and a bunch of people, white and black got on. They all found seats except a young, black soldier in uniform. The bus started to move again, and the soldier was standing in the aisle.

My mother looked around the bus, and then she whispered to me, “Don’t make a fuss.” She leaned over and whispered to something to my sister and Wendy also. Then she stood up and walked a short distance up the aisle to an older white man traveling alone. He was sitting on the aisle. The seat next to this man had a big birdcage on it, like a parrot cage.

My mother spoke in a strong, firm voice, not loud, but just loud enough to stop all the conversation on the bus.
“Sir,” she said, “If you will put this birdcage on the overhead rack, this girl (pointing to Wendy), will be able to sit next to you, and this soldier will be able to sit next to my own daughter, who is eleven.”

No one on the bus said a word. The man with the birdcage stood up to move the birdcage and another man stood up to help him.

Then Wendy sat down where the birdcage had been, the men retook their seats, and the soldier sat next to my sister. The entire bus let out a collective breath.

That was my mother — a woman of courage, grace and quiet inspiration.

A Special Poem


by Ilene Leslie Skeen

Glancing at the page below
I wonder what you’ll come to know,
As if my thinking went astray
And I scarce know what I will say.
But listen well and harken this,
A special poem deserves a kiss.
So if there’s a young miss you know,
Take this special poem and go.
But if a kiss will not suffice,
Get some coarser merchandise.
Flowers, candies, clothes or books
Will win your precious lady’s looks.
But I would say to stay at home,
If callous lass cares not for poem.

Ilene Skeen ©1967

 

This Life is Not a Test

  This Life is not a test.

This Life is an Actual Life. It is not a Prelude to another Life or a Reprise of a former Life.

Repeat. This Life is not a test.

If this Life were a test, you would have been given complete instructions on where to go and what to do from Day One.

This Life is the Only Life you will ever have. Make the most of it. Make the best of it. Choose Objectivism.

 

A Career for Heroes

     Although this book is not a How-To type of book, it is better — it could be a Why-To book for someone who is bright, ambitious and looking for a career in which to make a living.

In Pursuit of Wealth: the Moral Case for Finance should interest any person, especially any young person thinking about a career.  Careers in finance include brokerage, commercial and investment banking, corporate finance, hedge funds, private equity firms, venture capitalists, financial planners, public accountants and more. Authors, Yaron Brook and Don Watkins (who’ve written two previous books together), approach finance from a novel point of view: the moral case.

You might exclaim, “Moral case? What does morality have to do with finance?”

To which the correct reply is, “Everything.”

The authors’ idea of morality is not biblical, not about self-sacrifice, and not about rewarding the undeserved.  Their view comes from Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand.

In Rand’s view, the man who profits thorough productive achievement is doing something moral. He is supporting his own existence and pursuing his own happiness by using his mind to create values – the values that human beings need to live and enjoy life. And this is as true for bankers, traders, and investors as for any other producer.”[i]

Few books before this one have dared to tell the moral story that finance is good.

The book starts with the core functions of finance and explains how finance enriches the world. Finance enables entrepreneurs to offer products, boost their production, and get goods and services to market sooner. Goods and services of all kinds: energy, food, clothing, building materials, computers, phones and countless other values make our lives easier, more productive, and more pleasant – often in ways that we could not even imagine, let alone duplicate.

Finance is a field that you should be able to feel great about while making money. Financiers help entrepreneurs change the world. Their knowledge of markets and money enable them to take risks that average people wouldn’t take.  Using capital (money), financiers help inventors, entrepreneurs and investors turn their own ideas into products to make money. As a result, financiers often reap rewards that most people only dream about.

The authors provide a welcome objective look into the historical opposition to finance. The Bible condemns finance. Islam outlaws finance.  Finance, even from the Enlightenment to today, has a long history of inarticulate apologists ineptly explaining its importance and meaning to human life.

Bureaucrats and politicians generally consider finance a “necessary evil” at best. They love to regulate finance.  Many people despise finance. Others are afraid of finance. Those in the ivory towers of academia and the back rooms of media reporting stigmatize and dismiss finance.

Brooks and Watkins get it right. They say, “We would all be far worse off but for the productive achievements of this maligned and vilified group of individuals.”[ii]

Brooks and Watkins show in clear terms the morality of finance and the vital role finance plays in our modern human life. They also provide an in-depth look at the fallacies of the “inequality” movement and a number of current financial controversies including index funds, insider trading, the so-called taxpayer subsidies of Wall Street, and the killing effect of Dodd-Frank on small business.

There is a fascinating chapter on the cultural stereotype of businessmen as greedy robbers and murderers.  A “real-life” example of this cultural stereotype considers Steve Jobs, the productive genius and Bernie Madoff, the self-destructive fraud, as moral equals.

A career in finance rewards those who pursue it with a good living, and for those who pursuit it with a passion, intelligence and devotion, the possibility of an excellent living, even an astounding living.

If you have the skills and interest, and would like a career that has a long history of making human society better on every level (despite what the ivory tower tells you), you could embrace a career in finance with peace of mind, knowing that the need for finance is inescapable and continuing to increase in modern society.

Finance is a career that offers opportunity at every level – so that the person just starting out has the chance to grow into the hero he or she wants to be.

Whether decide to pursue a career in finance or you are already in finance or are in another career entirely, from reading In Pursuit of Wealth: the Moral Case for Finance, you can gain a fresh, exciting vision of the value of finance to the world, a vision to last a lifetime.


Page vii.

ii Page v.

Keep on Tweeting, Mr. President

President Trump (@realDonaldTrump on Twitter) has 46.3 million followers.  46,281,438  to be exact.

Many of his followers  hate his guts. They react negatively to anything he says or tweets.  Their hate-filled remarks are all over Twitter. They are an army of trolls.

The Democrats say they hate his tweets, calling him incompetent. Some Democrats, say Trump’s tweets are grounds for impeachment.

The mainstream press hates his tweets, calling them insane, narcissistic, and worse.  Trump has them completely discombobulated. They claim that he’s distracted and failing.

Some Republicans hate his tweets, but say that President Trump’s agenda is more important. People defending Trump’s tweets say that Trump is not going to change who he is.

They say that you don’t have to like his tweets to love his accomplishments: Supreme Court, tax reform, less regulation, more jobs, record breaking unemployment, border security, and a great stock market.

You don’t have to like his tweets to like his agenda for 2018: fund the government, fix DACA , more border security,  infrastructure, and welfare reform.

Maybe Trump’s tweets are not the work of an incompetent, insane  narcissist, but of a canny businessman who knows his market.  His base largely loves his tweets. They are tired of being dissed by Democrats.

Ordinary people have to move on with their lives. Ordinary people celebrate winners and get over losers.

Not so for the Democrats in Congress, the Beltway, Hollywood, the mainstream media,  the huff and puff press,  and a significant  number of troll followers on Twitter. Opposing Trump is their life.  All these losers are solidly and vociferously aligned against him.  

The Trump strategy for the mid-terms is simple.  Americans love an underdog.  In 2016, Trump had a winning strategy. He made himself the underdog and he won.

Trump’s tweets  keep  the opposition united against him, so much so that Trump appears to be the underdog these next fights.  Trump is banking on his accomplishments to break down the Democratic obstructionist narrative, while Democrats waste time, energy and breath on dissing his tweets and saying no to everything he proposes.

Ordinary people pay attention only when elections roll around.  Interest will be high if it looks like a good lopsided fight with one side unfairly up against it. Interest will be high if Republican candidates for state and federal offices support Trump.

Interest will be high if Trump continues to accomplish good for the country,  especially if some Democrats  cross the line to help.

For those who have done nothing but complain and obstruct,  the interest in the election will be intense, and Underdog Trump will have a definite advantage.

Tweeting attacks against Trump can keep Trump  looking like an underdog and grow his base. Solid obstruction of his agenda feeds into this strategy.

Who else but Donald J. Trump could be Top Dog and Underdog at the same time?  By tweeting, Trump is saying, “Bring ’em on!”

Objectivism Past and Future

References:

Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have found that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society.   From <https://news.rpi.edu/luwakkey/2902>


Yaron Brook. Living Objectivism Episode #134 – What is Objectivism & much more

From <http://www.blogtalkradio.com/yaronbrook/2017/12/12/living-objectivism-episode-134–what-is-objectivism-much-more>

A Toast for the New Year

 

The New Year ought not come, but be attained

by only those who celebrate a time well spent.

December’s final days are mounting steps

to reach that peak of midnight, head unbent —

To stand upon that yearly peak of time —

look back without regret, look forward without fear;

To stand as in salute to one year’s pride and

one year’s promise; pledge to both a solemn cheer;

To hold unbridled future, as a white mare to be caught

and tamed, and molded to man’s will;

To hold one goal; reach out, and finding it too far,

to walk toward it; to walk and say — I will;

To gain that goal; to say —  I have — and set

another goal — to check the score next New Year’s eve.

Dear Reader,
I wrote this toast for the New Year of 1968, 
50 years ago. At each year-end, I repeat it, 
enjoying it anew.
Best,
Ilene Skeen

Objectivism in Context

Ayn Rand in New York City

With a clearer understanding from Sciabarra … Rand’s achievement becomes breathtaking in its comprehensiveness.”

A Review of Ayn Rand: the Russian Radical  by Chris Matthew Sciabarra (2 editions)

Ayn Rand (1905-1982) was a controversial novelist-philosopher, the founder of a new system of philosophy she called “Objectivism.”  She remarked, “I am challenging the cultural tradition of 2,500 years.”

The Provocative Book Title

1st Edition 1995

The title of Chris Matthew Sciabarra’s book is provocative, and Rand would have considered it insulting.  I’m sure Sciabarra did not mean to insult, but did mean to provoke interest.  Interest is good.

Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, Rand lived through the Russian Revolution and rise of the Soviets. She despised Russia and everything about it. Rand immigrated to the US and became a proud American citizen.

2nd Edition 2013

Rand considered herself a radical for capitalism, meaning free-market, laissez-fare capitalism as protected by a properly limited government (Capitalism the Unknown Ideal).  Her work included a revolutionary new concept of epistemology (Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology) and a new theory of ethics which rejects altruism (The Virtue of Selfishness) and is itself the foundation of Rand’s ideas on politics and art.

Most contemporary academic philosophers ignore Ayn Rand. To academia, the notion of a novelist-philosopher is unprecedented, even rude. The idea of an outsider inventing a philosophy that challenges everything since Thales is unacceptable to those inside the ivory towers.

Sciabarra’s Purpose

The purpose Sciabarra set is simple: “to provide an enriched appreciation of Ayn Rand’s contributions.”  Ayn Rand: the Russian Radical (ARTRR) first appeared in 1995. The second edition (2013), added biographical materials relating to Rand’s early training in philosophy and her college transcript.

Sciabarra’s admiration for Rand is evident.  He is storming the fortress of academic philosophy, by exploring how Ayn Rand’s thought relates to the academic philosophy that has thus far largely spurned her.

Purpose of the Review

My purpose in writing this review is to show the important ways in which Sciabarra succeeds. His work does increase the appreciation of Rand and spread interest in her and the values of Objectivism to the culture. I will also show how his perceptive questions are valuable in that they are questions crying for answers, even when Sciabarra’s own answers may provoke hostility.

The Scope of Rand’s Achievement

Simply put, Ayn Rand acknowledged only three previous philosophers — Plato, Aristotle and Kant. She acknowledged only Aristotle as an essential influence on her thinking.

Sciabarra takes strong exception to Rand’s own view of essential influences, declaring that there are important connections between Rand’s thought and that of her Russian teachers.

Clearly, thanks to Sciabarra, a fuller understanding of Rand emerges — not as merely a fourth giant among a great three, but as the one who saw through the lacks and mistakes of the hundreds of thinkers in the 2,500 years since the birth of philosophy.

Ayn Rand presented herself as a hero among three giants of thought. Sciabarra presents Rand as the hero among countless philosophers and writers.

The discrepancy between Rand’s view of her achievement and Sciabarra’s view of Rand is easy to explain. On the declaring of influences, Ayn Rand would have discarded as an influence, anyone whose basic premises were in contradiction to reality. Since of the three systems builders in the history of philosophy, only Aristotle based his thought on the primacy of reality, it is apropos that Aristotle is the only one Rand acknowledges.

However, for the student of the history of philosophy, Rand’s place among the top three as well as the hundreds of less important thinkers is not clear until one has the picture of the complexity of building a philosophical system, and the primacy of reality upon which to base it.

With a clearer understanding from Sciabarra of some of the methods employed, arguments, contradictions and failures over the centuries, Rand’s achievement becomes breathtaking in its comprehensiveness.

From my first reading in 1995 and again in 2017, I view the complex picture of philosophical exploration that emerges as the primary benefit of the book.

Ayn Rand’s Method vs the History of Philosophy

ARTRR includes a lengthy contrast of methods, principally dualism and the dialectic.

Sciabarra postulates that Ayn Rand’s method is consistent with her first encounters with philosophy in Russia where the influence of Marx dominated the philosophical landscape. Marx himself said that Aristotle was a dialectical thinker.

Ayn Rand did not directly address either dualism or the dialectic method in her epistemology. In her Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, she started with active awareness and proceeded through cognition, consciousness, concepts, abstraction, definition, arriving at axiomatic concepts and identity.

Provocative Characterization of Rand’s Method

Sciabarra calls Rand’s method “dialectical libertarianism.” This designation takes considerable unpacking. It is important to mention that ARTRR is Sciabarra’s central book in a trilogy on this subject. Marx, Hayek, and Utopia is the opening book. Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism is the closing.

I find that the idea that Rand learned the dialectical method in Russia is a reasonable conclusion, but it is not a convincing label for Rand as a mature thinker. To be clear, I have not read Sciabarra’s full trilogy, and do not presume to speak to this idea in essence.

There is evidence that efforts to apply dialectical reasoning broadly have been in our culture for many years.  For example, after WWII in the late 1950s, school children, myself among them, learned about the war dialectically: there was Communism (hypothesis–noble, but doesn’t really work), Nazism (antithesis—repugnant, killed 6 million Jews) and liberal Democracy (synthesis–the practical good, free countries of Europe and the US).

Libertarianism is a loosely organized movement, professing the ideology of freedom. Ayn Rand specifically rejected libertarianism as a movement without philosophical foundation. Clearly, Rand would consider Sciabarra’s labeling of her method as “dialectical libertarianism” insulting to her life, work and memory, as well as being irrelevant to her accomplishment.

The question Sciabarra raises for me, which I find riveting, even revolutionary, is what is there about Rand’s method that allows her to disregard all the methods and their many variations, and still wind up with a complete, cogent and organic philosophical whole?

To my knowledge, no other book intended for the lay market has stimulated that question, framed as Sciabarra has done, specifically with the history of philosophy as the background.  The exploration of this question, which has interested me greatly, is the second most important benefit I have gleaned from ARTRR.

Ayn Rand as a Student at Petrograd State University

The new edition of ARTRR includes three appendices relating to Rand’s college education and the results of Sciabarra’s efforts to find, preserve and understand the historical facts of Ayn Rand’s introduction to philosophy as a student in Russia. Without Sciabarra’s efforts, this valuable information would otherwise have been lost.  This benefit of Sciabarra’s work is clearly priceless.

The Contention of “Open” Objectivism

The concept of objectivism refers to a number of loosely defined philosophical attitudes that say that reality is real and consists of everything outside of the mind.  The earlier manifestations of objectivism lack any cohesive theory or prominent theoretician.

No one is claiming that the concept of objectivism is closed – all concepts are open ended, as Rand herself pointed out. But Rand’s Objectivism is her specific work product. The law protects Rand’s work product under copyright until it comes into public domain.

By capitalizing the term for her system, Ayn Rand made Objectivism her “brand.” When modern scholars refer to “open” Objectivism, they refer specifically to the philosophy of Ayn Rand.

For example, none of the admirers of Ayn Rand, including those favoring “open” objectivism would confuse Rand’s philosophy with “logical objectivism.” This is the idea that logical truth does not depend upon the contents of human ideas but exists independent of human ideas. The independence of ideas from the humans who have them is a variant of Platonism, which Rand rejected.

Webster’s dictionary defines “objectivism” as “any of various theories asserting the validity of objective phenomena over subjective experience.”  The American Heritage Dictionary goes somewhat further: “One of several doctrines holding that all reality is objective and external to the mind and that knowledge is reliably based on observed objects and events.”

In sum, I believe that Sciabarra comes down on the wrong side of the question of “Open” Objectivism when he declares Rand’s philosophy open.

However, the question is moot.  The genuine concern should be to answer the question of what will happen to Ayn Rand’s Objectivism when the copyright runs out.

Ayn Rand died in 1982, but her work lives on and her reputation is growing. How will history remember her? Will philosophy absorb Objectivism into the miscellany of variations purporting to be reality based, but actually founded on Platonic or Kantian principles? Will philosophy succeed in burying Objectivism entirely? Will Objectivism supplant the all the other objectivist theories and capture the ivory citadel as well as the culture?

In Conclusion

In the space of this review, my intention was to convey to the reader a taste of the immense context-expanding value I found in ARTRR.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra has rewarded me with a refined sense of the enormity of the task before us. Truly, despite my sometimes harsh sounding criticisms, I believe that Sciabarra, like myself is working and living by Ayn Rand’s principles, and has come not to bury her, but to praise her.

Independent thought and spirited discussion will be crucial elements in spreading Ayn Rand’s Objectivism to philosophy qua philosophy. Infighting, passion and controversy can be great incentives for the next generations to expand on philosophy’s unanswered questions.